Aviva Premiership 2012/2013: The Rugby Blog Awards

Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final was full of controversy, skill and tries – a fitting end to a season awash with just those things. Here are our end-of-season awards for the 2012/2013 season.

Players of the season: Julian Salvi and Samu Manoa

Teammate Tom Youngs grabbed the award at the official dinner, but for us Salvi is a marginally more worthy winner, not least because he didn’t miss large chunks of the season away on international duty (although that is a tad unfair to blame on Youngs). Salvi’s importance is paramount to the Tigers – his foraging ability at the tackle area is second to none and he has added a handy ball-carrying element to his game this season. He has also managed to curb his penchant for giving away silly penalties – something that blighted his career for years.

It is a bit of a cop-out naming two players, but Samu Manoa has been too brilliant to ignore. He is a one-man bulldozer at times, and his combination with Courtney Lawes gives Saints one of the nastiest and hardest-hitting forward duos in the league – just ask Toby Flood. Having grown up on the streets in America, he is a rugby success story too. We all (opposition players excluded) hope to see plenty more of him next season.

Breakthrough players of the season: Elliot Daly and Christian Wade

One of these guys is at last getting his chance with England this summer – how the other isn’t a mystery to many. This Wasps duo has been terrorising the outside channels all season, and a highlight reel of some of the individual tries they have scored would make for highly entertaining viewing. Wasps and England need to decide where Daly’s best position is, and allow him to settle there – at the moment he risks going down the road of many a talented back before him (Mat Tait springs to mind), who have been shunted around the backline until even they are unsure of where they belong.

And what else can be said about Christian Wade than hasn’t been already? From the opening day of the season, when he left George Lowe for dead in a five metre channel, he has been gliding through defences to score tries he has no right to. He is probably the most exciting talent to come through the English ranks since Jason Robinson. A quick mention for Will Fraser and Matt Kvesic, who look set to battle for the England open side spot for years to come.

Tries of the season:

1. Dan Bowden (Leicester v Saracens)
For team participation, Bowden’s effort wins try of the season hands down. It had everything: pace, power, slick hands and the deftest of chips from George Ford to finish it off.

2. Ben Youngs (Bath v Leicester)
For opportunism and individual brilliance it is hard to argue with Youngs’ effort against Bath. Awareness and pace took him through the initial defence, before he bamboozled fullback Oli Devoto with some dazzling footwork.

3. Christian Wade (Wasps v Harlequins)
Wade’s first game of the season was a sign of things to come, as he beat opposite man George Lowe in a phone box.

Coaching team of the season: Richard Cockerill and Matt O’Connor

This is a bit of a controversial one, because Richard Cockerill is far from everyone’s cup of tea. However, love him or loathe him it is tough to deny that he, ably aided by trusty Aussie sidekick Matt O’Connor, has steered the Tigers ship superbly well again this year. With a group of players that perhaps lacked a few of the stellar names of recent years, and with club stalwarts like Geordan Murphy and Louis Deacon on the decline, these two have done superbly well to get the Tigers across the line for a record tenth time in the professional era.

What is perhaps more impressive, however, is that the Tigers have become a joy to watch and a far cry from the days when they simply beat teams into submission with their forwards – and it is for that reason that both Cockerill and O’Connor are mentioned here, because it is the Aussie’s influence that has got them playing an attractive brand of rugby again. He will be sorely missed by all at Welford Road.

Underachievers: Sale Sharks

A no-brainer. Stellar signings in the off season the likes of Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray, last season’s top try scorer in Rob Miller and a new coach at the helm in Bryan Redpath all pointed to a return to the upper echelons of the Premiership for Sale. What happened was the polar opposite, as they found themselves embroiled in a relegation battle with both sets of Exiles (London Irish were a close second for this award). It will be fascinating to see how they rebuild during the off-season, and if they can bounce back from this.

Overachievers: Exeter Chiefs

People seem to expect the Chiefs to finish near the top of the table these days, but when you consider their squad that expectation seems warped. They are bound by a club spirit the likes of which no other team can claim; that is how they continue to defy the odds and show up teams with bigger budgets and more famous names. Heineken Cup Rugby awaits for them next season, and the Sandy Park faithful can look forward to welcoming some of the continent’s biggest names to Devon once again. Special mention should go to London Welsh, who were criminally (quite literally) unlucky to fall foul of one man’s poor judgement and suffer relegation more or less because of it. The Premiership will be worse off without them.

Team of the season

To round it off, here is our team of the season, made more or less of the players who featured most often in our teams of the week (certainly we think it bears more resemblance to an actual line-up of the best players, as opposed to the ‘official’ one that was more a popularity contest on Twitter).

1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
2. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
3. Halani Aulika (London Irish)
4. Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers)
5. Christian Day (Northampton Saints)
6. Sione Kalamafoni (Gloucester)
7. Julien Salvi (Leicester Tigers)
8. Samu Manoa (Northampton Saints)
9. Danny Care (Harlequins)
10. Gareth Steenson (Exeter Chiefs)
11. Christian Wade (London Wasps)
12. Anthony Allen (Leicester Tigers)
13. Joel Tomkins (Saracens)
14. Tom Varndell (London Wasps)
15. Nick Abendanon (Bath Rugby)

16. Rob Buchanan (Harlequins)
17. Soane Tonga’uiha (Northampton Saints)
18. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
19. Steve Borthwick (Saracens)
20. Akapusi Qera (Gloucester)
21. Haydn Thomas (Exeter Chiefs)
22. Freddie Burns (Gloucester)
23. Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)

Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you back for a bigger and better 2013/2014 season!

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

27 thoughts on “Aviva Premiership 2012/2013: The Rugby Blog Awards

  1. Not sure about Cockerill. Has lost some good young players, surely planning for the future is part of being a coach. Thought Nigel Davies did well this season, particularly after last season.

    1. it’s also an element of tough shrewdness. Sometimes a coach has to look at a player and decide if he’s really coming through well enough to be the future of the club and separate himself from any sentimental attachments.

      Take the example of George Ford. He could be an England fly-half in the future. But with Toby Flood, Ford can’t be second fiddle or he won’t get the game time to develop. It’s evident when he comes on that he’s just not that player and needed to be cut, for his own good as well. In his stead, a young fly half to develop and Ryan Lamb as reasonable experienced cover Flood when he’s with England.

      Other players just haven’t developed the way it might have been hoped. Dan Hipkiss is another example, but Leicester have plenty of talent coming through the academy (Adam Thompstone for example) and what they don’t nurture, they can attract from elsewhere.

      1. Leics have also signed the excellent young Scarlet’s outside half who has played well this season – given a lot of starts due to Priestland’s injury. A loss for the Scarlets, a gain for Leics.

      2. his unwillingness to offer decent amount of game time to talented young men has cost him Ford and Twelvetrees and the past 2 seasons. based on the fact that Twelvetrees now looks set to be the incumbent 12 for england for some time, i would say that cockers has made a mistake. but thats just my opinion.

        1. I would say he made a mistake on Twelvetrees, but I can’t think of many more. Right now, Ford is not as good as Flood. Ford is leaving because he wants to start at 10 in the Premiership so that is not really Cockerills fault.

          I can’t think of another player that has left and gone onto great things. When you put that with him bringing into the team players like the Youngs brothers, Slater, Croft, Tuilagi, Morris, Thompson, Cole and more, I think he is doing ok.

          1. Majority of these were through the academy well before Cockerill became head coacch. I think Wasps and Quins are doing much better at the moment at developing young talent. Think Cockerill’s record is more mixed.

            Be interesting to see how they get on next season without O’Connor, who I suspect was the one supplying the rugby intellect.

        1. My point was more players that he has bought into the first team, although many have them have come through the academy. Still, I think to say Cockerill isn’t doing a great job is a little harsh; they have just won the title, and the have 6 Lions (5 of which have come through the academy), which I would say is pretty impressive.

          1. There were no Tigers in last year’s U20 world cup squad. 2 in this year’s.

            The current England internationals/Lions were through the system before his days (with the exception of Many I think, but if a Tuilagi brings a brother in and says “we think he’s the best of the siblings” you kind of take notice!)

            I don’t think he’s doing a really bad job on player development, but don’t think it’s his strongest point. I just get the impression it’s more of a priority at Quins, Wasps and Chiefs.

            This is pure conjecture, but it seems to me the Cockerill approach is to provide a tough competitive environment and if you are good enough you will rise up through it, the like’s of a Rob Baxter come across as having a much more player centric approach.

  2. I think McCall & Co are unlucky not to get coaching team of the season. Not making it to the Prem or HC final shouldn’t deny the achievement of keeping in both right up to that stage. And finishing top of the table. Losing key players to injury is out of a coaches hands. But Cockers has done well with Tigers, and fully deserved the Prem title

  3. That Wade try is something to watch again and again. I do feel a little sorry for him though – Jason Robinson’s name seems to be mentioned whenever his is.

    I was agreeing with you about Sale until the Cipriani part. Can’t we now all agree that this “fantastic early promise” was just a mirage? Lots of players can dance around a bit, only a select few go on to apply it and become quality rugby players. He isn’t one of them and deserves no more praise than Arwel Thomas. How many more euphemisms for crap can be applied to him? “Naturally talented”. “most gifted young lad I’ve seen”, etc. Ten a penny. Rugby is a game where, thankfully, commitment is rewarded, not just being born with a bit of luck.

    1. Fair enough Brighty, I suppose ‘marquee’ might have been a better word to describe his signing, as there was undoubtedly excitement surrounding his return to the Premiership, (largely concentrated in Sale) given the fact that – whether rightly or wrongly – he is a big name. Whether that excitement was justified (as it turned out not to be) is another matter.

    2. You’re spot on about Cipriani. I can think of two other words which describe him as well. Inconsistent, and temperamental. Can be great one moment, and throwing his dummies out the next. In some ways he reminds me a bit of Henson. Wasted talent!

      Wade is the real deal though, and I can see him replacing Ashton. Eastmond reminds me more of Robinson though.

    3. i disagree about Cipriani. he was an exceptional player, unfortunately, that form seems to be evading him now-a-days. but there is no doubting what he is capable of.

      here are some highlights of his first test start.

      also you make comments about luck, but i dont think you understand that its not all been as easy for him as you think. after all, he comes from a background where his mum had to work 2 jobs (one driving a black cab) to pay for him to go to the school that he did.

      From talking to a former coach of mine (an ex-London Irish player) he said that when his the team he coached played Cipriani, he could tell he was the best school-boy rugby player he had ever seen.
      To put that into a bit of context, my coach had previously coached Joe Simpson of Wasps, Tom Mitchell of England 7s. He had also coached me in numerous games against Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Ross Chisholm (Quins), Charlie Matthews (Quins), Kieran Low (London Irish), George Kruis (Saracens). My Coach was also a former teammate of Rob Henderson (a B&I Lion), Bob Skinstad and a certain Lawrence Dallaglio (played county together).

      I would say that those are pretty decent credentials to give a good judge of Cipriani. The reality is, Cirpriani is a good player who has been ruined by the media attention and celebrity lifestyle that has been thrust his way.

      basically what i am trying to say is that his “fantastic early promise” is not “just a mirage” because it was actually happening, he was a very talented rugby player. he then suffered a pretty bad injury, and things slipped from there.

      1. Completely agree in Cipriani, he was an unbelievable player. Since he broke and dislocated his ankle he has never been the same IMO. He has about 8 months out and everyone went crazy for him.

        There is not doubt that he has all the talent needed, but he has been to taken back by the celebrity of it all that he has forgotten that he still needs to train hard to be the best. I honestly hope that he knuckles down next season and we start seeing the best of him, because that would be some sight.

      2. Simo, I meant luck as in lucky to be born with the talent that he undoubtedly was.

        My criticism of him is exactly along the lines you mention though – HE let the celeb stuff get in the way. HE believed his own hype and, to me, looked like he started to forget the amount of work it takes to translate talent into resuls. HE is the one who now acts like a big headed tool – holding court about his England chances when he’s not even fifth in line. He blew it and was a fool a long time before his injury. Capable of magic moments but unable to string a complete performance together. These sorts of showboating outside halves are ten a penny in welsh village sides. The ones who matter are the ones who marry that god given talent with application and enough humility to be able to learn.

        1. Completely agree with every you said here Brighty other than the part about putting together a complete performance. He absolutely can do that, just no consistently. And even in saying that, going back to his breakthrough year at Wasps, he was outstanding every week, so he can do it!

          But as you said, he doesn’t work hard enough.

          Interestingly enough, he has just joined back up with Margot Wells whom coached him closely in his early career. I for one am holding out some hope that Cipriani can sort it out and let his talent come through next season.

        2. “Rugby is a game where, thankfully, commitment is rewarded, not just being born with a bit of luck.”

          “lucky to be born with the talent that he undoubtedly was.”

          getting slightly confused now, are you saying people are born talented rugby players, or that commitment makes them talented? little bit of mixing messages there it think.
          similarly, you said his fantastic promise was a mirage, and now you are saying that he was undoubtedly talented…

          i am glad that you brought up the “HE chose to accept all the celebrity” argument, i had hoped it would be your response.

          as i said, his mum worked 2 jobs to put him through school, one of which was as a black cab driver. so i think it is safe to assume we all agree that he didnt have the most privileged of upbringings. therefore, why wouldnt a 25 year old accept the free things and attention from women (like Kelly Brooke) if they had the chance? he would be stupid not to!
          also, from what i recall, Danny wasnt on the front of many papers and magazines until Kelly came along, because until then he was just another rugby player.

          regarding your comment that he had blown it all well before the injury: he was the current incumbent england flyhalf (Jonny Wilkinson had been dropped for him). the Ireland game (see the clip i posted) was on the 15th of March 2008 in the 6Ns. Cipriani broke his ankle on the 18th May 2008. its pretty well timed. it was in August 2008 that he had his poor performances for England, resulting in him being dropped.

          OH! and one final point. Margot Wells (who i see Jacob has tipped a nod to) has been quoted as commenting on Cipriani being hard working and having a superb attitude. i think she would have a pretty good idea of work ethic, and she has worked with plenty of rugby players too.

          1. I think it’s clear – I am saying that great rugby players are born with talent and then show great commitment to apply that talent. Cipriani only had the former, not the latter. You need both. The difference for me is that commitment is a choice, talent is luck, so I am more impressed by people who make that choice.

            Margot is undoubtedly a friend and a trainer – I doubt she’d slag him off at all. The evidence is there to see.

            As for the celeb thing we are going to have to disagree on that – a lot of very talented boys didn’t have easy early years, but they still didn’t let the fame and fortune sway them from their main focus – their talent and their sport. Cipriani did. I don’t feel sorry for him, it was a choice he made. I do not think he would have been stupid if he had chosen to focus on his rugby. I’d have given my right arm to be born as talented. He could have stepped back from it at any time but he chose not to. His choice. His lack of turning his talent into performance.

            I’d seen him turn in plenty of poor performances before his ankle issues. He was not consistent and didn’t seem to realise that only hard work turns talent into consistency.

          2. Brighty, i hardly doubt he would have reached the levels that he did without hard work. I know plenty of talented young players who didnt work hard, and they have gone by the way side. I also know some less talented players, who are not playing professionally. i wont agree, the marriage of commitment and talent it important, but i do not think that Cipriani would have got that far without hard work (obviously i am not suggesting the Wilkinson levels of hard work).

            I agree, its highly unlikely that Margot would slag him off. However she did not have to give such a glowing reference either. she chose to do so, which should suggest something.

            Fair point regarding the celeb side of things. but like i said, not many lads are approached by the likes of Kelly Brooke (the main reason he became “famous”). Women of that status tend to go down the football route, as its a more lavish lifestyle. but lets agree to to disagree, like you said, other wise we will be flogging a dead horse.

            i found your comment about giving up your right arm to be born that talented slightly ironic. i know that you did not mean it in a literal way, but now that is all i can imagine! and clearly having 1 arm would hinder being as talented… (interestingly i heard of a 1-armed schoolboy rugby player in Australia when i loved there, he played on the wing).

            i should state now, i am not a fan of Cipriani, but i did take offence to your initial comments about his promise being a “mirage”.

            clearly we can do the back and forth all night if we wanted, so it should probably be best to just agree to disagree.

        3. I think his performance vs Ireland could be classed as “stringing a complete performance together” Brighty

          Still, much of what you say is entirely correct. I’ve always thought that he compared himself to football players whilst wondering why he didn’t earn that much money or receive that kind of celebrity.

          He never really seemed in it for the game, unlike Jonny Wilkinson (an obvious example I know) but more for what he could from it – and once he started getting the Hello photos, etc, he mostly gave up on the rugby part of it

          I do also believe that the ankle injury caused him to lose a lot of his bottle and accelerated his swift decline

          1. Pablito – good point about football. I remember an interview where he talked about his football trials – he could have been a footballer. He talked about “rugby is going that way now anyway” in terms of the financial rewards. He made a decision that he’d make more money out of rugby as he could be at the top of that rather than a middle level footballer. A lot of us make career choices based on money but sport is different – the top 1% have to want it more than the money because the fame and fortune desire won’t have you out on Christmas day doing kicking practice.

          2. mid-level footballer? he trained with Tottenham in his off-season before moving to Aus, so he could keep his fitness up. he impressed them so much that they asked him to play in a game for their reserve XII. seems like he had the potential to be pretty decent.

            also, if he was totally driven by the money, then surely he would have gone for being a mid-level footballer, after all, some of them are still millionaires.

            Cipriani went to Whitgift school, one which is famous for its rugby. the opportunities to play football will have been slim. the opportunities to play rugby on the other hand, they would have flooded in for a player of his talent.

            also, regarding your comment about the top 1% wanting it more that just the money. i recall paul sackey openly admitting to not actually liking rugby, he was just good at it, so he kept doing it.

          3. Paul Sackey has a CV that reads:
            1 Heiniken Cup Trophy
            2 Premiership Trophies
            1 Anglo-Welsh Trophy
            1 RWC Runners-up medal
            22 Caps for England, and 11 tries.

            sure, Sackey isnt going to go down as a great of the game, but there is not doubting that he has played at the highest level, and he seems to have performed…

  4. To quote the great Andy Goode: “Cipriani is a very talented tw@t”

    Seriously though I think that injury which wad horrendous had a massive psychological impact on him. He was always a tool but no one questioned his dedication from paying for sprinting coaches to extra kicking practice. Sadly I don’t see him ever getting back to where he was which is a shame.

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